Designing For Discovery

You know the problem. You are looking for a holiday online. A bit of inspiration. See how much it costs to escape the office and picture yourself on a tropical beach, or in a hipster bar chatting up the locals.

The painful experience design of the mandatory search form of most travel sites brings you straight back to reality. Why do I have to know when and where I want to travel? I only have 20 mins to kill before the next meeting. All I want to see is some offers to compare what’s out there. To get an idea about what’s available. To daydream the dreary afternoon of conference calls away. Eventually I’ll decide where to go and what to book, but that’s not even on my mind right now.

Here is the challenge: Research says 70% of people know what they want to do on holidays, but not where they want to go. Yet travel websites are structured to demand to know where you want to go before they show you any search results.

I am working with a startup at the moment to challenge that status quo.Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could find holidays that suit your idea of a great time, not the search engine’s? What if the search treated all options equal, and none of them would be mandatory? What if we add more relevant controls, to filter for temperature, a whole host of activities, even down to hotel and room facilities or the type of pool you are looking for.

We distilled two core design tenets from this idea, to create a traveller agent service that focusses on traveller needs, not travel operator ones:

1 – Choice without hierarchy
You can choose as many, or few, search parameters as you wish. We have collected over 200 to choose from, to truly pinpoint your best holiday match.

2 – Compare prices and best value
Compare prices from trusted travel companies, but let people define their own idea of ‘best value’. This may not be the cheapest price, but depend on flight times, comfort level or location.

How do you make that kind of search intuitive? How do you educate your customers? The unpopular truth is that users expect that frustrating search form. They don’t expect dynamically updated results. Most will faithfully fill in all the details (when, where, who) and not engage with the unexpected options.

As BJ Fogg says, you have to take baby steps towards behaviour change. With regular rounds of user research we learned that we had to adapt the concept from a dashboard to a more familiar faceted browse in the short term. The system needed more affordances to inspire trust in this new search paradigm for travel, then we would be able to build on the search experience with a more unexpected, yet more powerful and elegant, interface.

Try it out at